Entertainment and Broadband Companies Partner to Curb Online Content Theft

The MPAA, RIAA and online service giants, including Comcast, have agreed on a common framework for so-called copyright alerts, similar to credit card fraud alerts, designed to notify and educate consumers.

NEW YORK – Film, TV and music industry players have teamed up with Internet service providers to curb online content theft via a standardized Copyright Alerts system that will send consumers up to six notifications in electronic form, such as email, when their Internet service account may have been used to access pirated films, TV shows or music, particularly via peer-to-peer networks.

The partners in the voluntary system, which was announced Thursday and is similar to credit card fraud alerts, are the MPAA and its member studios, IFTA, the RIAA and its music label members, American Association of Independent Music and its 283 smaller and mid-sized music label members, as well as Internet service providers Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems, AT&T and Verizon. The partnership comes as technology and entertainment companies haven't always shared the same interests in the past.

The new system, under which ISPs will begin implementing alerts this year and next, particularly focuses on parents or caregivers who may not be aware that their Web accounts are being used to access pirated content and consumers who may not be aware that “downloading copyrighted content from illicit sources is illegal and violates their ISP’s terms of service or other published policies,” the group said in a statement.

It cited data that suggests that once users know about alleged content theft and its possible consequences, most Internet subscribers take steps to avoid such issues in the future.

The voluntary system is not based on any new laws or regulations, and it doesn’t contemplate terminating a subscriber’s account. Also, ISPs will not provide their subscribers' names to content owners. But the new system calls for the use of “mitigation measures” designed to stop accounts that “appear persistently to fail to respond to repeated Copyright Alerts” from accessing pirated content, the group said. Such measures could include temporary reductions of Internet connection speeds or redirection to a landing page until the consumer contacts the ISP to discuss the matter.

A first alert under the system will notify a subscriber that his or her account may have been misused, that content theft is illegal and that consequences could result from such conduct. It will also direct people to educational resources, explain how to avoid content theft in the future and “provide information about the abundant sources of lawful music, film and TV content,” according to information materials. Upon the fifth or sixth alert, ISPs will start taking the “mitigation measures.”

To deal with possible doubts, the system will also provide consumers an opportunity for an independent review to determine if online activity has been lawful and if their online account was identified in error.

Internet service providers have so far forwarded to subscribers notifications from content owners about alleged content theft, but so far here has been no shared “best practices.”

Content theft costs the U.S. economy more than 373,000 jobs, $16 billion in lost earnings and $3 billion in lost tax revenue, according to the partners.

The agreement also calls for the establishment of a Center for Copyright Information to support the system and educate consumers on copyright issues.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo helped bring the parties together when he was attorney general of the state, according to the new partners.

“Many people don’t realize that content theft puts jobs - and future productions offilms, TV shows, music and other content - at risk,” said Michael O’Leary, executive vp for government relations at the MPAA. “Today, there are more ways to enjoy content legitimately online than ever before. This agreement will help direct consumers to legal platforms rather than illicit sites, which often funnel profits to criminals rather than the artists and technicians whose hard work makes movies, television, and music possible.”

Jean Prewitt, president & CEO of IFTA said that “frequently, independent producers and distributors are hit the hardest by content theft.” She added: “This agreement is a textbook example of the private sector working cooperatively to help solve a glaring economic problem while protecting consumers.”

“This groundbreaking agreement ushers in a new day and a fresh approach to addressing the digital theft of copyrighted works,” said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA. “We hope that it signals a new era in which all of us in the technology and entertainment value chain work collaboratively to make the Internet a more safe and legal experience for users.”

Victoria Espinel, U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, in a blog post Thursday lauded the new partnership between ISPs and content companies. "We believe it will have a significant impact on reducing online piracy," she said.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai